Archive for Holidays

Speaking the Name, Among Friends and Strangers

Last week, at my hospice’s annual Lights of Love ceremony, music was played, candles became flamed reminders of deceased loved ones, a “holiday tree” was lighted in the midst of a busy outdoor mall, and nearly four hundred beloved names were read aloud.

Lights of Love is one of the simplest things we do for the year-end holidays.

Lights of Love is one of the best things we do, especially for grievers facing a holiday season that can seem . . . endless.

I was one of the readers, probably speaking close to a hundred names, one after the other, on a portable stage, surrounded by a crowd of “strangers.” And yet not strangers. With candles held aloft (real, drippy, cheap, wonderful, burn-to-a-nub wax candles), with kids crying and playing and wriggling, with shoppers scurrying from store to store, with a Santa’s Workshop plying its trade not far behind the stage, I read names written in large permanent ink on 3×5 cards.

In the California town where I live, there’s an abundance of ethnic groups. We have first and tenth generation folks here from lands afar. We have parents that dubbed their children with wondrous names that could be pronounced in a multitude of ways. The hospice volunteers filling out the 3×5 cards often ran out of paper real estate and squeezed vowels and consonants together.

In the dark, with barely enough light, reading was an adventure! Read More →

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The Guy in the Sweater Who Loved Me

During this delightful season of holy days and holidays, how can we best remember those we loved the most?

Or would we, while stumbling through this exhausting, frazzled season of empty chairs and hollow celebrations, prefer to find a way to forget—ignore, erase, mute, move past—those we loved (hated) the most . . . and miss (don’t miss) the most?

Fill in the blank for you: holidays are the most __________ time of the year.

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That’s me in the photo above. On the left. (Oh, you guessed that?)

My hair is gray now. Read More →

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Christmas Promise

On a long-ago Christmas Eve, I did my last visit to a patient as a hospice chaplain.

I was honoring a promise.

All I did was hold a hand in a dark bedroom while storm clouds trudged across the night sky. In the nearby houses, seasonal lights flickered in the rain, inflatable Santas and snowmen waved their greetings, and outdoor ornaments sparkled as the gusting wind teased them.

In the patient’s room, it was quiet.

In the patient’s room, she now mostly slept.

I’d already started working as a church’s “new minister.” It had been a tough decision to leave hospice—an intimate ministry—for a mid-sized church with hundreds of members, a sprawling budget, and endless obligations. So many decisions are a combination of guesses, selfish and selfless reasons, and trying to do the right thing at the right time of life. I didn’t know then (and I don’t know now all these years later) if it was the best choice . . . but it was my faithful risk to say “yes” to serve a congregation.

Some of those “endless obligations” during the first days of church work were the Christmas Eve services. There I would preach. There I’d read the ancient stories of Jesus’ birth. There I’d seek to connect an old, familiar tale to the daily hurts and hopes of modern folks. There I’d help a congregation light candles and proclaim the “light of the world.” Read More →

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